The Hunt (R) ★★½

Review Date: April 2nd, 2020

As a piece of social satire, it could be argued that The Hunt runs too long. A similar complaint could be made about this as a horror/thriller property. As pregnant as the promise may be, there's not quite enough to fill the full 90-minute running time, which leads to an anticlimactic climax and a flaccid finale. Nevertheless, weaknesses in the movie's final 15-20 minutes don't detract from how enjoyable the rest of the film is with its over-the-top gore, wild misdirections, surprising twists, and unsubtle stereotype-based lampooning.

At the core of The Hunt is the not-terribly-original idea of human beings hunting other human beings. Before they start shooting, the "elites" give the "deplorables" weapons to make the whole thing more sporting, but there's never much expectation that the targets will be able to turn the tables on the hunters. For a while, everything seems to be going according to plan but this wouldn't be much of a movie unless at least one of the would-be victims goes off-script. That would be Crystal (Betty Gilpin) a.k.a. "Snowball," and she realizes that the only way out of her predicament is to hunt down and kill all the hunters, including the ringleader, Athena (Hilary Swank), for whom this is personal.

The film opens with a cleverly executed 15 minutes in which we're never sure who represents the protagonist. (Spoilers for the early part of the movie follow…) Following a prologue, the first face we see belongs to Emma Roberts. Since Roberts is a "name" and the movie stays with her for a few minutes, we assume she's going to feature prominently. Had we gotten a peek at the end credits (where she's referred to only as "Yoga Pants"), we might have thought differently. By minute 5 or 6, her screen time is done. The action then focuses on a smarter, competent guy. He too, however, is unceremoniously offed. As is his successor. Eventually, once there aren't many people left, The Hunt settles on Crystal as the main character and stays with her until the bitter end.

As one might suspect from two Lost alumni (writers Nick Cuse & Damon Lindelof), the proceedings are more interested in being engaging and surprising than they are in making sense. The Hunt is a classic refrigerator movie, which is to say that it's more entertaining while being watched than when analyzed in retrospect. All the twists and turns are less impressive once they have been revealed than at the moment of their unveiling. Nevertheless, I'll give the movie points for trying to be different. As with anything bearing the Blumhouse label, the proceedings sometimes seems more interested in finding unique ways to kill people than in telling a story. Then again, that's part and parcel of the horror genre.

The movie's release date was pushed out from September 2019 to March 13, 2020 because of a combination of circumstances: too close in proximity to a couple of mass shootings and social media-fueled anger about The Hunt's supposed "left wing bias." The former was unfortunate; the latter was untrue. Yes, the movie satirizes Republican/conservative stereotypes but it's no less vicious when it comes to Democrats/liberals. In fact, following its release, the film came under fire by self-proclaimed progressives for glorifying gun violence (and presumably for creating a legion of "elite" caricatures whose overt political correctness would be galling to anyone who takes themselves too seriously). Anyone offended by The Hunt's political satire needs to grow a thicker skin.

Like most Blumhouse productions, The Hunt has a fresh, breezy feel and seamlessly incorporates comedy into its more traditional horror elements. It does these things better than bombs like Fantasy Island and Truth or Dare. Director Craig Zobel doesn't sustain suspense the way he did in his 2012 feature debut, Compliance, but he sustains the viewer's attention even when the narrative's momentum flags during the final third. It's a solid throwaway B-movie that probably thinks it has more to say than it actually does but is entertaining nonetheless.

© 2020 James Berardinelli